Often on larger mountains you’ll notice people skiing or riding with backpacks. Why though? Is it really necessary? Is it safe? Carrying a pack can definitely have its advantages. Here are a few worth mentioning, as well as important things to remember if you decided to wear a pack on your next downhill adventure.
Wearing a backpack is an absolute must in the backcountry, or any area outside of the operation of ski lifts. Winter backpacks have features such as straps for ice picks, spots for avalanche probes and plenty of room for additional safety items. One of the most useful features is the ski or snowboard carrying straps. Nothing makes a hike tougher than trying to carry your gear along with you. Carrying your gear on your pack keeps it out of your way allowing free movement of your arms and legs so that traversing is your only focus.
What about the average guy though, the skier that stays in bounds and skis recreationally? Is there any reason for him to wear a pack? Absolutely. Hydration is key to your enjoyment of any sport and even more important when you’re performing at higher altitudes. Personally, I get altitude sickness pretty bad, so constant hydration is what keeps me from feeling lightheaded and out of breath. Carrying a hydration pack allows me to frequently take little sips along the way rather than gulping down a whole water bottle at the lodge and giving my stomach the sloshing fish bowl effect. It also helps disperse the water in my pack and weight on my body, so as not to feel lop-sided while I ride, as a water bottle would do. Many winter packs are hydration compatible, meaning you can add a bladder and hydration line. The key here is making sure that you have an insulated liner or it will freeze while you’re outside, although on some of the colder days this may be unavoidable.
Carrying food is another reason to carry a pack. I know many people who will pack a small lunch and carry it along so as not to have to spend a fortune or wait in lines at the lodge. You also won’t find yourself trying to navigate back to the main lodge to find somewhere to eat, when a quick sandwich in a warming hut or in the gondola will do. Carrying snacks like granola bars will also hold you over until your next meal while giving you the energy needed to continue on.
Whatever your reason for wearing a pack, always keep safety in mind. Here are a few tips to follow when riding with a pack.
- Be sure there aren’t a bunch of things or straps hanging off your pack that could snag on a tree branch or anything else.
- When riding the lift, shift your pack to the side so that your back still sits flat on the chair.
- When exiting the lift, check your pack well before getting off to make sure that no straps or loops are stuck on the chair.
- Avoid adding too much weight to your pack, it could make it heavy and cumbersome to ski or ride with.
- Properly adjust and tighten your pack so that the pack sits secure on your back and the weight isn’t shifting in a way that will decrease your performance while riding.
Carrying a pack can be very beneficial, but not if it’s at the expense of your experience.